Photo: A. Elmi
Jesus' Carving (5/6)
By: A. Elmi
8th of December 2022
Mum’s final words played in my mind all night. I have this habit – which I’m sure many others also do – of mentally revising a disaster, saying and doing the things I should have said and done, and fix it that way so I can move on from it. So, I lay in my bed watching the darkness come alive with reimagined scenes of my meeting with Jesus. The scenes stole into my dreams and replayed themselves all night, so that when I woke up, I was totally convinced I’d actually driven Jesus away the previous day. But then I saw him in the kitchen rummaging through our fridge. And my heart sank, but before the rest of my body could sink with it, I saw Maryan not two metres away from Jesus, digging through our pantry and coming out with ingredients for something.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked them.
Startled by my presence, Maryan dropped one of the ingredients on the floor, a bag of flour. ‘I’m preparing breakfast, sister,’ she said with a loudness and quickness unusual for her, then she crouched down to pick up the flour.
‘I thought you couldn’t make malawax, pancakes,’ I said, scanning the ingredients set out on the counter, now joined by the milk and butter Jesus had produced from the fridge. ‘That is what you’re making, right?’
Maryan suppressed a smile. ‘You should go get dressed. I’ll have the pancakes ready by the time you return,’ she promised me.
Mystified, I turned my glare from her to Jesus, who was easing into a chair at the dining table at the other end of the kitchen. There was a block of something in his left hand, and there was a silver glint just behind it. I walked past the table on my way out and risked a glance at him. He was holding a chunk of dark wood. The glint came from a sharp knife with a red handle that he used to shave the wood. I stood there watching him run the knife along the soft wood which coiled up and tumbled to the table.
‘You’re a carver?’ I asked him.
The knife paused on the wood, and his hazel eyes lifted and locked on mine. ‘No, I’m a prophet. But I used to work a lot with wood. My dad, Joseph, was a carpenter, and he taught me his skills.’
‘Here.’ Maryan appeared at my side and offered Jesus a steaming cup of coffee.
Jesus reached out to accept it. ‘Thank you, Mary.’
‘It’s Maryan,’ she mumbled, walking away. There was a trace of something like fondness in her voice, and I frowned to myself, wondering if I’d misheard it.
‘You know,’ he broke into my thoughts, an odd gleam in his gaze, ‘that one of my followers is called Mary, or Maryan, whatever you prefer.’ He chuckled to himself and resumed whittling the chunk of wood.
As if some sorcerer held up a mirror and reflected this morning into the future, every morning afterwards was a replica of it, save for one aspect. There is no way to describe it other than to say that Maryan became both her old self – the cook Grandfather spoke of – and a new self. Something had cut off the ropes that bound her hands and made her clumsy in the kitchen, her hands now moving with a dexterity close to a consummate chef’s. Whereas before the house air was tainted with the odour of burnt food, now it was rich in the nuanced fragrances of her wonderful dishes. Something else entirely, or maybe even the same thing, had also done away with her silence and games of hide-and-seek. It was now so usual to hear her speak that it was almost strange not to hear her voice flying about high up in the air, loud and clear and never-ending. And finding her was as simple as following the sound of her voice. She even enjoyed the attention, her face shining, and her pearly teeth showing between openly smiling lips. Her transformation was nothing short of magical, and Mum had taken to calling her charming. Our keenness to drive her out and see her married to the faceless man of eleven years was quite gone.
Our focus had shifted to Jesus. He spent the first two weeks of his stay talking about his identity, as if he had to convince us he really was Jesus Christ before he felt assured enough to confide to us what he wanted. I wasn’t too surprised, therefore, to find him harping on about this subject when I came home from university one early afternoon. His voice mingled with other more familiar ones in the front room. I halted in the doorway and saw Jesus on the sofa, Mum in the armchair to his left, and Maryan’s head poking in through the door that led into the kitchen. She pulled her head back for a second to give way to Uncle Long Nose who walked out from the kitchen bearing a tray with a teapot, a jar of sugar, a small jug of milk, and a dish with a handful of dates. I had barely exchanged a nod with Uncle when Jesus raised his pitch and motioned energetically to the large sheet he was holding in both hands before his chest.
‘No, it was, it really was,’ he was saying, ‘given to me by Angel Jibriil, Gabriel. He never shared the artist’s name, but a man with a talent to match Leonardo da Vinci’s captured my ascension to heaven in this painting.’ He flipped the sheet around with a flourish to reveal a modern photograph of himself in a green suit and a purple tie with a leaf motif. Parted in the middle, his henna-dyed hair was doused in oil and plastered to the sides of his head. Oil-wet ringlets clung to his chest and continued beyond the frame. Nothing of the background showed, except a sliver of yellow here and there. It was impossible to tell whether the picture had been taken outdoors or indoors by a window, but the light that bathed his face most certainly came from the sun. It melted the hazel in his eyes to pure gold, so that had we been in the Middle Ages, and he’d told us those were bits of the sun in his eyes, I might very well have believed him. As he swept the photograph across the room to give everyone a good look, I caught a glimpse of the chunk of wood on his lap. It would not be proper to call it a chunk anymore, as it had assumed the distinct shape of a skull with a few strands of hair engraved on it and a face with dulled features, kind of like how a face pressed against a thick cloth might look.
I was about to turn and leave when Jesus’ high voice dropped to a low growl. ‘I’m pleased to see everyone gathered because I’ve been meaning to ask you something,’ he said, placing the photograph reverently on the table before him and lifting his enormous hands to beckon us closer.
From behind me, Idris and Xirsi resolved from the hallway into the front room, and I briefly wondered when they’d joined us.
‘Don’t lie to me now,’ Jesus cautioned, hazel eyes flitting between all present. ‘Tell me, has someone been through my things?’ At the thickening silence that met him, he said, softening his voice a little, ‘I ask because I have a strong feeling that someone has.’
‘We’d never go through our guest’s belongings,’ I said, meaning it, ‘especially not if the guest is Jesus Christ himself. But the basement has a back door, which I’m sure you’ve seen. Could it be that an outsider’s broken into your room?’
His brows knitted in thought. ‘I haven’t considered that. Yes. Yes! I might’ve left the door unlocked,’ he said, then blinked around at us. ‘You told me to smoke outside, so I d—I’m not blaming you! What I am saying is that I smoke so often, going in and out, that I may have forgotten to lock the door. You don’t really think about the things you do every day, you know? You just trust yourself to do them. But even if I did leave it unlocked, I can’t be sure someone’s been in there. Nothing’s missing. It’s just,’ he said, splaying a hand over his chest, ‘a feeling. Well, it’s probably nothing. I get paranoid sometimes, you understand? Anyway, I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Mum said, putting on a smile.
‘Now,’ Uncle Long Nose said after a pause that seemed to reset the atmosphere in the room, ‘there are a few things my sister and I would like to discuss with you, Jesus.’ Uncle walked his gaze over my brothers, Maryan, and me and gave a subtle head jerk that told us to withdraw swiftly.